Stargazing: Opponents appeal permit for Thirty Meter Telescope

May 19, 2013 at 01:20 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — Opponents of a plan to build the world's largest optical telescope at the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano are appealing their case in the state courts.

Environmental groups and petitioners say building the Thirty Meter Telescope will harm the mountain's natural resources, undermine its scenery and destroy areas of historic importance.

Kealoha Piscottia, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one of the groups, said Tuesday she and others appealing aren't opposed to astronomy. Piscottia said she worked as a telescope operator for 12 years and many of the others filing the appeal are either amateur astronomers or related to amateur astronomers.

"This isn't about science and it's not about astronomy," she said by telephone from Hilo. "It is however about how we're treating the land and the people of Hawaii as well. Because the mountain belongs to everyone and not just astronomy."

The opponents filed a notice of appeal in Circuit Court in Hilo on Monday against the state Board of Land and Natural Resources' decision last month to grant a permit for the telescope's construction.

The University of California, California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy started the effort to build the telescope. Observatories in China, India and Japan have since signed on as partners.

They hope to begin construction in April 2014 and start operations in 2021.

Their plans call for the telescope's segmented primary mirror to be nearly 100 feet or 30 meters long. The Thirty Meter Telescope Corp. says this will give their telescope nine times the collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today — the twin W.M. Keck telescopes built on Mauna Kea in the 1990s.

TMT says the telescope's images will also be three times sharper than Keck's images.

The telescope would have the world's largest title for only a short while. That's because a group of European countries has plans to build an even bigger telescope — the 42-meter European Extremely Large Telescope — in Chile. The European Southern Observatory's website says their telescope is expected to start operations in the early part of the next decade.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.